Confirming Satirical Libertarian Stereotypes: Hating on Roads

I'm a big proponent of the theory that publicly subsidized transportation is one of the most important forms of market intervention. For just a partial example of its pernicious effects, public roads are a huge subsidy to large-scale, centralized firms, and a driving force behind urban sprawl,and the destruction of community and family that accompanies this unsustainable and unattractive development and the lifestyles that go with it.

On the other hand I always felt a little twinge of pain at condemning things like car culture and the interstate system. Like a lot of Americans, I get a kick out of being able to whoop it up to 75 miles per hour on artificially cheap gas and free roads and love the feeling of freedom from being able to move quickly and easily all over this bitch.

But I just had a realization that makes me feel a lot better.

While it would presumably be more expensive to move around in a free market (at least until the liberated entrepreneurs and engineers got around to selling us solar powered flying cars), We wouldn't need to travel so far to get what we wanted, and wouldn't have to go so far away to be somewhere very different from where we started.

Right now, I have to drive 20 miles round-trip to get to a library or bookstore that carries books other than quilting guides. On the other hand, a free-market in transportation, with all the costs internalized, would likely bring these sorts of businesses back to my little town's struggling Main Street as the transportation surcharge on any purchase obviated much of the price differential of buying in the city. It wouldn't matter that I couldn't drive as much anymore.

Even though, at present, I can drive from Idaho Falls, ID to Phoenix, AZ in as little as 14 hours on $100 in gas, when I get to my destination I'm still going to be eating dinner at Denny's, the same place I ate breakfast, and I'm going to be shopping for sunglasses to replace the ones I sat on after lunch in Utah at a Walmart identical to the one I bought a road atlas at that morning. The nice Jello Belt Mormon lady who checks me into my hotel will have a lot in common with the woman I bought gas from in Utah. If I made a trip of similar distance in Europe, I could travel from London to Vienna, passing through five countries, each with their own distinct culture, language, and traditions--holdovers from a time when in fact travel was more expensive and qualities that are disappearing as the effects of subsidized gas, roads, jet and car technology, and shipping play themselves out.

In a liberated society, the economy and culture would be much more decentralized and diverse. While meandering toll roads and market priced gas would certainly decrease my objective ability to travel long distances, my subjective ability to get where I wanted to be and experience new things, see new places, and meet interesting people would no doubt increase.

Share this

Well Put


This clear-sighted little bout of optimism made my day a little better. It's a relief from the only political talk I ever hear: "if the government doesn't do X, then Y is going to fall apart."

Good post.

Back to the Future

Since I have been around for a few years I can tell you what it was like before the interstates. We would travel from Atlanta, GA to MN on two lanes and it would take about three days. Every ten miles you would pass through some little town’s business district at 20 MPH. Every town looked like every other frikin town. The only cultural difference you would observe was that some where between Tennessee and Indiana you would get hash browns instead of grits for breakfast and the waitress would make fun of your southern accent. They also started calling cokes “pop.” God help you if you got behind an 18 wheeler, especially if there were any hills. I do have fond memories of those old fashioned Mom and Pop motels which were always clean and well kept.
Now with state sponsored rapid transit world culture comes to you. I went to London and found that if you asked someone something they might respond in a Russian or French accent.
I’m not touting statism but I’m just saying.

Here in the Netherlands, gas

Here in the Netherlands, gas isn't subsidized. 61.5 percent of what you pay at the pump is protection money for the state. They're doing their part in keeping Europe culturally diverse.

Win Win

So spend 14 hours on travel time and $300 to go to some other country. I'm sure they don't have Denny's. Hell, come here to Long Island, we don't have them either.

The point of the McDonald's in France is to 1) Bring diversity to the French who want it. 2) Maintain familiarity for the American tourists who want it. It's win-win.

I don't think that you are

I don't think that you are correct. Increasing gas prices does not bring businesses back to your neighborhood. Rather, it just makes you wait longer to head to the city. The plan is to force people into the cities more and more.